Saturday, August 15, 2020

Leadership in Challenging Times

I don’t usually use this blog for political reasons. I waffled about whether to write and publish it, but in the end, I decided it was a positive view of what leadership is and what it could be. 

Those who know me are aware that politics is part of my personal life. My parents taught us kids about the importance of voting, and we saw it as a civic responsibility. We helped candidates doing things like knocking on doors and dropping off brochures at houses or helping at coffee hours. After I got married, my husband ran for political office. He won his races for City Councilmember and State Senator and lost his races for Mayor and Governor, but that experience of being so close to a campaign and to someone in an elected position taught me a lot about leadership which helped me when I became a principal.

My cousin, Keith Amemiya, is running for Mayor of Honolulu, and our family is helping him, just as they all helped my husband when he ran for the various offices. Even if Keith were not my cousin, though, I would definitely support him. I see in Keith the kind of  qualities and can-do attitude we need in our leaders during these challenging times.

Keith was a 32-year-old attorney in private practice when he was selected as the Executive Director of  the Hawaii High School Athletic Association. It was an unprecedented selection but one that made a difference for high school sports and athletes in Hawaii. Keith made it a point to build relationships and to get to know all 95 schools that made up HHSAA. He talked story with principals, athletic directors, coaches, players, parents, and members of the community. He heard their concerns, he listened, and he worked collaboratively to seek solutions. Under Keith’s leadership, we now have divisions so all high schools have opportunities to play for state championships in different sports. He greatly increased the number of sports available to girls, he sought business sponsorships for state tournaments, and more students were able to go to college on athletic scholarships. In 2009 when the State faced a major shortfall affecting athletic programs at public high schools, Keith spearheaded a “Save Our Sports” campaign that unified the state and raised the funds to offset the budget cuts. 

What made this more remarkable, in my opinion, is that Keith was an unknown at the time of his selection as Executive Director of HHSAA, and he had to work within a system that was, for want of a better description, an “old boys’ network.” Most high school principals and athletic directors at the time were males, many twice Keith’s age, and they weren’t sure why he was selected. The HHSAA selection committee took a chance on an outsider, a young person, someone with ideas and the collaborative skills to change the culture of high school athletics in Hawaii. Their selection of Keith made a difference.

It’s a difficult time to be a leader whether it’s a school, a business, a nonprofit, government, etc. People are stressed and frustrated as the pandemic shows no signs of receding, and sometimes, we blame our leaders for their actions or their inactions. This is why we need leaders who have strong core values that guide them in their decision-making and who have empathy for others. We need leaders we can trust. We need leaders who are not afraid to think out-of-the-box and who can bring people together to discuss and find solutions to the major problems that are impacting us now and in the future. 

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